As Santa Monica College prepares to begin construction on its new Malibu campus in a couple months, the weekly Malibu Farmers Market, which operates on the same site, is feeling insecure about its ability to operate consistently during the next two years or so.
The owner/operator of the farmers market, Debra Bianco, told The Malibu Times she has a lease with LA County that is up on March 15. She claimed they sent her a new lease for only three months, instead of the 12-month lease she was expecting, and that’s when panic set in.
The county lease is issued by Maria Chong-Castillo, the deputy for public works in County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s District 3 office. She and Supervisor Kuehl sent the following statement to The Malibu Times:
“During the planning process for the Santa Monica College construction at the Malibu Civic Center, my office hoped that we could keep the Farmers Market operating at full scale with minimal disruption. But as anyone who has ever done even a minor remodel to their homes knows, construction is really messy. My office is working closely with the City of Malibu, the Farmer’s Market and other stakeholders to find as many solutions as we can to the issues that have come up and to keep as much going as possible. I appreciate everyone’s patience and goodwill in this process.”
Don Girard, director of government relations for Santa Monica College, also weighed in.
“Santa Monica College’s arrangement with the county and city is to accommodate the farmer’s market, and we’ll do so. As to how it’ll be rearranged when the parking lot is under construction, which is at least a year in the future, we don’t know yet. Maybe for a few weeks, people will have to park somewhere else.”
Bianco said there have been two meetings over the past year at City Hall in an attempt to iron out the issue of the farmer’s market staying open throughout the construction process, bringing together representatives from the city planning department, the county, the city manager and board members of the Cornucopia Foundation (the entity that Bianco uses to run the farmers market).
“They were trying to [temporarily] relocate us at that point, and we already had proof that there was no reason to relocate... Plus, there is no place to relocate to, that’s zoned for us,” Bianco said.
Bianco’s friends and board members have made public comments at the most recent planning commission meeting, as well as this week’s city council meeting.
City Manager Reva Feldman commented that, “The county and college do want to try and accommodate the farmers market to the best of their ability during this period. But, as you know, we have the Civic Center Wastewater Treatment Facility Project underway during the same time as the college project, and there’s a lot going on in that area. What I understand is that they have communicated that they’re able to provide a smaller area to the farmers market... and are going to try to find space for more parking.”
The Malibu Community Labor Exchange (MCLE), which also operates on that site during the week, attended a special public meeting of the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees held at City Hall in January 2016. As a result of their public comments, they succeeded in getting a resolution to the proceedings to the effect that construction would not begin until MCLE was relocated. (Farmers market representatives did not attend that meeting.)
According to Jay Scott of MCLE, “The county has designated a new location for MCLE in the northwest corner of the property, where Malibu Towing is now.” He indicated MCLE will be meeting with the county and city in the near future to discuss details of the move.
The new SMC campus will be located on approximately three acres of a nine-acre parcel owned by LA County, located directly across the street from Legacy Park. The 16,603 square-foot sheriff’s station building currently on that site — decommissioned in the early ‘90s — will be demolished. In its place, a new five-classroom/lab campus building, a police substation, a community room that will double as an emergency operations center and interpretive center will be built. The former Los Angeles County Superior Court building and recently remodeled Public Library will not be affected.
Construction will be funded by Measure S, which allots $25 million to the Malibu campus and was approved by Santa Monica and Malibu voters in 2004 to fund SMC facilities projects.